As we journey through the Witness of Mark, we want to encourage you to first begin with the Daily Reading that will take you through the entire book of Mark. Then, read the First 15 Scripture and Reflection to dive a little deeper into verses from the Daily Reading.
Today's daily reading is: Mark 9:38-50
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.
Whoa! This statement by Jesus literally knocked me to the floor, took my breath away, and caused my head to spin at the amazing speed of one million miles per hour, all before I had my first cup of coffee!
Well, maybe these words did not literally result in any of the above, but you get the point. Hyperbole is the use of deliberate exaggeration to grab attention and drive home a message. We encounter hyperbolic statements often and use them casually. We say someone is as strong as an ox, as fast as lightning, and skinny as a toothpick. We get so angry we claim we could kill someone, we tell our kids to clean their room for “the thousandth time,” and we “wait forever” in the grocery line. We know how hyperbole works.
In Mark 9:42-50 Jesus makes several hyperbolic statements, including, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” Some, quite tragically, have taken Jesus literally. But perhaps Jesus has a deeper and more profound point.
At this point in Mark’s narrative, the lines become more sharply drawn. Some are opposed to Jesus, while others continue to be sympathetic. Jesus has expressed frustration, disappointment, and even anger at those who miss his message, particularly those in religious leadership. Jesus has pointed out that his opponents seem to abide by the letter of the law while missing the spirit; the teachers of Israel seem to be hardened and unmerciful (Mark 3:1-6). There is a difference between those who trust and follow Jesus and those who do not. Jesus commends those who would welcome a child or offer a cup of water in his name (Mark 9:33-37, 9:38-41), and he warns those that would cause “one of these little ones who believe in me to sin.” Jesus, quite carefully, is drawing a contrast between the religious leaders and himself.
What is the difference? Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount illuminates this for us (Matthew 5-7). In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus makes similar statements: if your eye, foot, or hand causes you to sin, pluck it out or cut it off. But here, Jesus is again making use of hyperbole. In the broader context of the Sermon, Jesus is contrasting the righteousness of the kingdom with the righteousness of the religious leaders, scribes, and Pharisees. The religious leaders emphasized right behavior, but Jesus pushed further: a right motivation coming from a purified and renewed core. Jesus teaches that outward observances can be good and fine, but what is truly needed is a transformation of the heart. A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit (Matthew 7:15-23). By grace, we need transformation, to be remade like a new and healthy tree, so that what we produce outwardly flows from the change God has rendered within. The grace we need is available to us through Jesus, who forgives our sin and restores our heart. He makes us new.
When Jesus makes statements like the one in our reading today, we are right to pause, slow down, and carefully contemplate his point. Jesus is right to say that it would be better for us to go without an appendage if it causes you to sin. But the offending appendage does not cause you to sin. You have to go deeper. You have to get down to the heart. It is better to keep your hand, your eye, and your foot, and instead to repent and turn from your sin, to walk in newness of life and to rely on God’s grace. And that’s what Jesus offers. That’s what he brings.
In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul writes, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” That’s not hyperbolic. That’s plain. And it reflects what Jesus taught.
Walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh. Put on the new self. Be like God. Serve others in Jesus’ name.
Holy Spirit, lead me into all truth, and help me to understand difficult passages of Scripture. Help me to see that in Jesus I can be renewed by his grace, transformed within, and become a person who evidences life with you, a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control. Help me to walk in and by the Spirit today. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.